Wednesday, September 9, 2009

RetiredJK, Cowboy for a day

Dear readers, it's been a while; I've been in Centennial long enough that new material is getting sparse. But this weekend, I had the opportunity to join some neighbors on a cattle drive. Now, usually a cattle drive involves herding cattle from, say, Texas to Montana. This was a mini-drive, going from one pasture, across the rural highway, to another pasture. But for me any cattle drive is a big deal. Still lacking in a cowboy hat and boots, and chaps, and many other things necessary to herd cattle, I substituted my Harvard rugby T-shirt, cheap sunglasses, and Seven for All Mankind black jeans. I heard plenty of "City Slicker" epithets, but I'm sure they were all in good humor! I didn't bother to tell them that I am military suburban by birthright, urban by obligation, and a born-again normadic country boy by choice.

We started the day fixing a fence through which the neighbors' cattle were entering the hay fields. This is evidently poor form by the neighbors for not tending to their cattle. It's also quite a drain on the hay supply, which I had always thought was infinite. So we rode out to the hay pasture. I know that you're wondering where I learned to ride a horse, but they took pity on me and let me ride an ATV for the day. They're really no comparison to horses as far as mobility, and I still think shooting someone from a horse would be much cooler than shooting them from an ATV. Heck, lancing or slashing someone from a horse would be even cooler and probably contribute to some medieval cachet.

Amazingly, Kid Rock doesn't just blare from every ATV when it leaves the factory; you actually have to have a CD. So we rode our ATV's out to the affected section of fence, and the cows were so scared of me they actually left the hay and ran back through the fence. We used an incredibly low-tech but highly effective (which, by the way, is also how I would describe the intrauterine device as a method of contraception or the skyhook as a way to score baskets) tool to repair the fence; it grabbed the two broken ends, racheted them together, and allowed enough slack to twist the broken ends of wire together. And by "we used" I mean "I rode around in circles on the ATV chasing rabbits". Helluva ranch hand I am.

After fence-mending, we got to the exciting part: herding cattle. Unfortunately, it doesn't require any roping, calf-tying, or bull riding. I was really hoping to jump off my ATV and tackle a calf but that would have been totally out of line. Anyway, there's a reason you "herd" cattle-- they love being in a herd. In fact, it's alot harder to remove one cow from the herd than it is to move an entire herd of cattle. There's also a reason that the dogs they use are called "herding" dogs; they love harassing cows more than that bestiality site on the Internet... or so I "heard". So in short, we were pretty much along for the ride, as the lead cows and the dogs do all the work. I attempted to high-center or flip my ATV (disability, here I come!) going as fast as possible but they ACTIVELY RESIST flipping and high-centering likely due to some feat of engineering or perhaps an act of Jesus (thanks for saving me, big man! Pay off my credit cards now.)

I actually found a sweet picture of Sarah Palin (I still think she's gorgeous) riding an ATV with a child, and there would be nothing better than a picture of her shooting wolves from an ATV, but alas my uploading ability is curtailed.

So we herded the cows, bulls and calves all into the pens for sorting, which is easy because they don't even resist entering a closed space. Then, we culled out the bulls to put them in their own pasture. This was probably the scariest part because bulls have horns. And they still weight 3/4 ton or more. Their lack of sensitivity for my safety was shocking and I had to pull a move straight out of a rodeo and hop a fence to avoid an oncoming bull several times. But pretty much, you let the bull out of the pen with minimal others, then try to isolate the bull and get it into the chute. One bull got an injection of antibiotics (good old DURA-PEN, penicillin for hoof rot) which involved immobilizing the bull from the neck up in the chute and injecting him IM on both sides. He enjoyed it slightly more than a child might.

Next, we got to weigh the calves. They're pretty damn cute, but they will bite your finger off. They also weigh 300 pounds apiece and can kick you like a ninja. This part consisted of us letting a bunch of calves out of each pen and then trying to block their moms from following them; the calves get pretty lonely when seperated from their mothers. But weighing the calves is fun, I actually learned what a cattle prod was, and that is no metaphor! It actually is a cattle prod that you use to shock the calves on the buttocks. I didn't try it even though I usually try to shock myself with anything available (e.g. electric fly swatters, dog collars). But you pretty much push one into the chute, close the second gate (at the end of the scale), and when the calf steps on the scale you close the gate behind it.

This part added some excitement. We got to castrate a male, which is not nearly quite as exciting as it sounds. You actually just tie a couple bands around its scrotom and it withers up and dies (what a sad idea, I would not go quietly if someone tried this on me). Imagine if all the cows figured this out and rebelled, and pulled each others bands off. You would have half a herd of bulls! It's like something from Animal Farm that's not a metaphor for communism. So anyway, one of the calves had not been castrated during their drive earlier this fall. Since I had gloves (the only necessary equipment I actually managed to bring), I got to rope the calf around the neck and hold it back while they wrestled it down. Main job hazard: rope burns, kick injuries, jealousy that I couldn't wrestle the calf. So I slipped the rope (aka lasso) around its neck in the chute, they opened the chute and wrestled the calf to the ground, and, lo and behold, no balls. For some reason it was marked as uncastrated but it indeed what. So I slapped it in the nose for good measure.

Then we let all the calfs and their mothers reunite, and led them out to pasture. This was, as usual, very unremarkable because the cows lead themselves out to pasture. For me it was another excuse to ride the ATV recklessly. After we let the cows out, we took the back way home, did some sweet jumps, and had lunch. What do cowboys eat for lunch. Evidently they eat Subway because that's what we had. And plenty of full-flavor American lagers, although as we discussed that day there's really only one that remains American in mass production, and that's PBR. PBR ME ASAP, brosef.

Also, contact me via text message for an interesting three-way trade I made the other day involving a freshly killed blue grouse (it's like a chicken.)

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